2021-22: School

Primer on Afghanistan, published August 19, here.


The school year begins in my local school district on August 31 (Grades K-6 and 9); and September 1 (the rest).

In Minnesota, the traditional start of the school year used to be the day after Labor Day, this year September 7.

Times are no longer traditional, as we so well know.  Today’s paper headlines that the Minnesota State Fair is opening at its traditional time, ending Labor Day (this year August 26-September 6).  There was no State Fair last year; and no one expects any record setting attendance this year.  Even the State Fair spokesperson is quoted: “To those who aren’t attending…we hope that we’ll see you in 2022.”

One of my kids is Principal of a 1,000 student middle school about four miles from where I live, but I have made it a point to not bother her for any inside information about 2021-22.  She has a great plenty to deal with as it is.

Another headline on the front page today “State’s ICU beds are filling up again“.   While we’re a good state when it comes to being vaccinated and masked, there are resistors under the guise of “freedom”.  At the coffee shop more patrons, including myself, show up masked; yesterday the conversation with my barber was about vaccination and crowds and such.  The ‘variant’ will be in the air, at least on people’s minds, at church tomorrow, in one way or another.

And on and on it goes: two grandkids graduated from high school last year, in a year of universally unconventional high school graduations.  Both were born in the year following 9-11-01.  Another headline “Biden vows U.S. citizens will leave” Afghanistan….

Communal celebrations and commemorations (as funerals) went unattended last year.

Back to school, Joni (my Principal daughter) will do okay, as will her peer administrators, but it will be a stressful start to what with little question be a stressful year.  In the best of times, “school” is like that.  The night before school begins is not a relaxed time for most who’ll answer the bell the next day.  This is not the best of times, lots and lots of patience is needed and often in short supply.  “Freedom” is being demanded; but isn’t free, and can’t be guaranteed to some, and deprived from others.  We need to work together, to sacrifice together.

“Public School” is the essence of community.   It is never perfect, though it always aspires to that.  The mix of students, their parents, staff requires patience and cooperation, no different than living in society, as most all of us do.

This summer someone I had just met braced me about my opinion about vouchers for students who’d rather not attend the public school.  It didn’t take me long to respond: schools are imperfect, but so are all of us.  At the very least, school is an opportunity for kids to learn from each other about the need for people to work together, to get along.  Going to home school or similar only delays the reality of becoming an adult.  Staying insulated has its downsides.  I suppose the same can be said for the probably continuing era of meetings via Zoom and other remote means.  There are advantages to not having to travel to work, and do committees via tv screen.  But there are downsides, too….

I have two parting thoughts as the new school year begins.

  1. Some weeks ago my great elder friend, Marion Brady, who’s had a lifetime in public education, sent me some quotes to ponder about “Core Curriculum”.  They’re here for your perusal.  Marion has been about the mission of public school ever since he attended one-room rural school in the 1930s.  He is a personal hero of mine.
  2. Back in the 1990s I was doing a workshop for teacher union leaders, and decided to start my session with a question: “Think about a teacher who made a difference in your life.”  I gave them a little time to ponder this, then I asked them to describe in one or few words why they picked the person.  Here are the words they came up with (from among the participants): Yes, one person in one of the circles – a teacher – couldn’t come up with a single teacher who inspired him, and admitted it. The exercise, as I recall it, took up the entire hour (unintended on my part), and those in the circle were completely engaged.

We all learn from each other, and as you know, it doesn’t take the entire village to help you in life; what you really need is the one person who in one way or another clicked with you at the time you were receptive.  (Success is a team sport!)

Let’s make the best of 2021-22.

POSTNOTE: Most likely I will be doing a few interim posts on differing topics.  Please check back.  Alternatively, you can get notice of posts as issued by checking the block in the comments section below.


from Larry: Dick, I’ve written some stories about great teachers in my life.  A few times have done small story circles, asking people to tell their own great teacher stories.  Among the too many things to do, too little time, things is to do more with this.

from Fred:  A very enjoyable musing about the coming school year. After 20 years on the shelf following 34 in the line of fire, I no longer salivate at mere mention of the coming Labor Day. Yup, I actually liked the beginning of another school year.

Re your “inspiring teachers” question. The ones that I remember as excellent (can’t say they were inspiring) were my sixth grade teacher Laura Detloff, sophomore high school English teacher Aileen Sethre and senior high English instructor Gene Robinson. Most were average and few mailed it in.
response from Dick:  Thanks much.  I would say all of us, including the high and mighty types, are just people with strengths and failings.  In other words, we don’t represent the Lake Wobegon rule “above average”.  Then, with teachers in particular, in public schools even more so, the clientele comes with their own strengths and shortcomings, and all are in the same stew-pop, some coming from awful circumstances at home that very morning.  It would have been great to be in that circle that day, I think it was 1999.  Except for the one guy, everybody came up with somebody who’d stuck with them…and that’s all one needs, I think.


4 replies
  1. Marion Brady
    Marion Brady says:

    Thanks much for the kind words. I really appreciate them. I’m pretty discouraged right now–have been struggling for weeks without success to squeeze inside 1,000 words the idea I believe could do in an hour or so a day of instruction what the core curriculum will never be able to do–organize general knowledge in a way that has adolescents thinking in ways far too complex to be evaluated by standardized tests.

  2. norman hanson
    norman hanson says:

    My mom was a public school teacher and my father did not finish high school as was the case with many of his age peers at that time living in rural areas, Yet, as a single man in his late 30’s, my dad was president of the local school board that hired my mom as a teacher. Just another place to meet a spouse, I guess. My daughter was well prepared by the local school system for the rigorous undergraduate and graduate programs that led to her PhD. in biomedical engineering.

    • dickbernard
      dickbernard says:

      Separately in an e-mail to family, friend to friend, and before I saw yours, I said this: “More seriously, we have become a nation of soundbites, and even those are abbreviated. 280 characters [tweet length] is probably about 40 words (google says between 5 and 6.5 characters per word, depending on punctuation so I was being reasonable in my guess, I guess)!
      In [the] really old days, people really read newspapers – all of them – as that was about their only reliable contact with the outside world. Dad and I once toured the Truman home in Independence and the guide said that Harry read five newspapers every day. Out at the farm the mailbox was full of stuff, and they read it!” All but two of that large farm family went to college for varying lengths of time, and the two who didn’t had good reason – they were needed on the farm. But even those two were very well educated.

  3. norman hanson
    norman hanson says:

    My parents were of modest means but very involve and engaged in community and public life with my dad serving on the local school board, county fair board and in the state senate for eighteen-years. They always made sure that we had a daily newspaper as well as the Grit on the weekends where I got to follow the exploits of Mandrake the Magician as well as all of the magazines of the day including Life, Colliers, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. They also subscribed to the various county papers including the Vidette, Star Gazette, the Independent Age and so on. I was always surprised to find that the families of so many of my high school classmates subscribed to few if any of them. My daughter and I visited the Truman Library when I was bringing her back from a summer internship at North Texas between her sophomore and junior years in college. She was an engineering major and not very interested in history, however, she loved the Truman Library and I almost had to drag her out there so that we could head home.


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